White House tries to tag Democrats with blame for possible shutdown

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney speaks during a briefing on a possible government shutdown at the White House, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — With a looming midnight deadline to make a deal that would prevent the government from shutting down, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney spoke to reporters in the West Wing on Friday morning. The pair, who are key members of the White House’s legislative team, made the Trump administration’s case that, if a shutdown does occur, it would be the Democrats’ fault.

“What’s unclear is what is it the Democrats are asking in order to get out of a shutdown. It seems that they are just hellbent on getting to a shutdown,” Short said.

However, Democrats have clearly stated their demands for any budget deal.

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s deadline, Democrats have said they would sign off on a bill to continue government funding as long as it includes measures to preserve the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Trump has maintained he would like to sign off on a DACA fix, which would shield nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation. But the Trump administration has said any DACA fix would need to be paired with measures to improve border security.

On Thursday night, the Republican-controlled House passed a short-term budget fix backed by GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan that did not include a DACA fix. That measure does not have enough votes to pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold only a slim two seat majority. This led Mulvaney to pin a potential shutdown on Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“The Office of Management and Budget is preparing for what we’re calling ‘the Schumer Shutdown,’” Mulvaney said.

In an earlier conversation with reporters at the White House, Mulvaney suggested the dim prospects for the short-term fix in the Senate “ratcheted up” the risk of a shutdown from a 30 percent chance to “50-50.”

Schumer met with Trump on Friday afternoon. After the meeting, Schumer told reporters they had not struck a deal.

“We had a long and detailed meeting, we discussed all of the major outstanding issues, we made some progress, and we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue,” said Schumer.

During Short and Mulvaney’s briefing on Friday, reporters pushed back on the contention Democrats haven’t made a clear demand for passing a budget deal. The pair acknowledged the push for a DACA fix, but Short claimed Democrats haven’t put forth any specific legislation that would address their needs.

“I don’t think it’s clear what the Democrats are asking for. I accept that … they want a solution to DACA, but there is not bill text that they’re asking Republicans to bring up,” Short said.

But Democrats have pointed to specific legislation as a way to break the impasse. During a press conference on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called for a House vote on the USA Act, a bipartisan bill that includes a DACA fix and border security measures. She described the legislation as a “good bill” and a “compromise that I can support.” In response to a question from Yahoo News, Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, called Short’s remark “simply a dishonest statement.” Hammill also pointed to a letter that 171 House Democrats sent to Trump on Thursday outlining their priorities for any funding resolution, including a DACA fix, pension reform, and increased disaster aid for the states and U.S. territories impacted by wildfires and last year’s hurricane season.

An earlier bipartisan deal crafted by a group of senators appeared to have broad support, but  that agreement seemingly crumbled last week after Trump criticized the deal using insulting language. At the West Wing briefing, Mulvaney and Short were asked if Trump’s inflammatory remarks had been a roadblock to a deal. Mulvaney stressed that the president is working on a deal and conducting meetings with lawmakers from both parties.

“The president is actively working right now to try to prevent a shutdown,” said Mulvaney. “There’s no way you could lay this at the feet of the president of the United States. He is actively working to try to get a deal.”

Mulvaney also made the argument that DACA is not an urgent or valid reason to risk shutting down the government.

“There is no reason that you have to deal with DACA this week. There’s no reason you have to deal with DACA before … the middle of February. DACA doesn’t expire until March 5,” Mulvaney said. “This is purely an attempt by the Senate Democrats, led by Mr. Schumer … to try and get a shutdown that they think this president gets blamed for.”

Indeed, there is wide consensus among Democrats that Trump will face the political fallout from a shutdown since Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress. Short and Mulvaney were asked about this when they spoke with reporters. Mulvaney pointed out that, despite their narrow Senate majority, Republicans do not have the 60 votes needed to pass a budget deal without votes from Democrats.

“I have to laugh when people say that,” Mulvaney said of the idea the GOP is solely in control. “It takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass an appropriations  bill. … When you only have 51 votes in the Senate, then you have to have Democratic support in order to … fund the government.”

With the clock ticking down, the two sides are clearly at odds. Democrats are broadly convinced Trump will pay the price for a shutdown. Republicans believe voters will blame Democrats for demanding a DACA fix be part of a budget deal. Short described the situation as Democrats “shutting down the government over illegal immigration.”

And while Democrats worry they will lose leverage on DACA without the threat of a shutdown, Republican leaders insist they are planning to preserve the program but don’t have enough time to strike a deal before the looming deadline. Speaker Ryan’s counselor, Brendan Buck, outlined this position in a memo sent to reporters on Friday.

“This is all so needless and frankly stupid. This shutdown is all focused on something we intend to do anyway. As you all know, serious high-level negotiations have been going on for days. There’s just not an agreement yet,” Buck wrote. “But there is no immediate DACA deadline. This will, as has been the case, be dealt with before the real deadline. This shutdown play, in fact, only makes it harder to reach an agreement.”

An aide to a prominent House Democrat who spoke to Yahoo News rejected Buck’s argument as “insanely disingenuous.” They noted the decision to end DACA and have it expire was made by Trump and pointed to a study from the liberal Center for American Progress that found over 100 DREAMers have lost their protections and work authorizations each day since the program was put in jeopardy.

“Republicans manufactured this crisis when they pulled the rug out from under 800,000 young people. This is a crisis today, not in March,” the Democratic aide said. “One hundred people are losing their protected status every single day, creating widespread chaos and panic in immigrant communities — so the idea that Dreamers should just trust Republicans to fix this next month, after Republicans created this situation, is insane, disingenuous, and insulting.”

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Additional reporting contributed by Olivier Knox.